Wandering around the maze of more than 75,000 books in a 2,500-square-foot bookstore on South Broadway, the section titles are diverse: End-time thrillers, books for mom, on the supernatural and Christian living, to name a few.
Nonfiction sits near novels of imagination. There are dictionaries, books on prayer and guidebooks that teach how to study the Bible. Then there are the rare collector books — some that can be traced back to 400 years ago.
“We have so many cool and interesting books here,” said Dalton Geske, an 18-year-old Denver college student who works part-time at the Englewood store, Christian Used Books.
“And you get to see how much they’ve been loved,” he added, pointing out highlighted texts and handwritten notes in some of the nearby books.
Christian bookstores are a niche market. They offer readers a different experience than online shopping — and many serve a purpose beyond the business of selling books.
“This is a bookstore, but it’s also a ministry,” said Eddie Cook, owner of Christian Used Books. “It’s amazing what happens in here.”
The ministry of books
Denver residents Cook and his wife Bonnie have owned and operated the bookstore for 25 years. Cook is a pastor who started a church in Englewood in 1992, but is now an itinerant evangelist — which means he preaches in various places — so that he can focus more on the bookstore.
The bookstore ministers in a number of ways, Cook said. For example, he donates Bibles and religious books to organizations or individuals in need. Many of those materials will go to missions overseas such as to Ghana, Cambodia, the Philippines and Liberia.
Although Cook sees new customers every day, a lot of his regulars come back for the knowledge, he said.
“Christians are always working on something,” Cook said. “The folks who come in here are either growing personally or helping someone else grow.”
Christian author and pastor Dave Cheadle agrees about the added value of bookstores.
About 10 years ago, Cheadle started the Harvest Christian Community church in Wheat Ridge. Now, he works with the homeless through Giving Heart Englewood.
Cheadle has been writing since at least the mid-1970s, he said, and has more than 150 articles and six books published. He is working on the third novel of a Christian fiction trilogy that he describes as an “apocalyptic end-of-the-world type of story.”
In the story, Christians are called upon to minister to the suffering world, Cheadle said, and the main character preaches about grace and truth.
“That is the theme of my life — it’s a theme I feel strongly about and it comes through in the books,” Cheadle said. “I love getting caught up in the story as I write it.”
Richard Weigang of Centennial holds a master’s degree in biblical theology and as a store owner, it’s all about taking an interest in the customer and helping he or she buy what they want and need, he said.
Weigang and his wife Lorena have owned and operated The Catholic Store, 3372 S. Broadway in Englewood, for 25 years.
“We serve primarily Catholics, but people of all faiths come in,” Weigang said. “Some people want to browse and others have their mind made up on what they want.”
The store specializes in Bibles, books and gifts such as prayer cards, rosaries, jewelry, saint statues and crosses.
The book selection is mostly nonfiction, Weigang said, but the store carries a wide variety of subjects and authors — including children’s books — and there is a lot of literature in Spanish.
“The saint books sell the best,” Weigang said. “I think people can relate to saints. They give us an example on how to live.”
Reading rooms open to all
Christian Science Reading Rooms also can serve a number of purposes as a bookstore and lending library, said Don Morris, librarian at the First Church of Christ Scientists of Arvada.
Reading rooms are open to the public, Morris said, so people who are familiar with Christian Science come for prayer or study. But others come in because they are curious.
Everybody is welcome to visit the reading room, Morris said, but it must be noted that all materials available at any Christian Science reading room support the Christian Science movement and must be from the Christian Science Publishing Society.
“We don’t offer books from just anybody,” he said, adding reading rooms can be thought of as a “one-stop-shop” for all things on Christian Science.
Many of the materials in the reading room are for sale, some can be borrowed and others are for on-site use only.
“The reading room is not just about selling products,” Morris said. “It’s about being a place where people can come for a spiritual atmosphere — a good, quiet place to get away.”
Independent brick-and-mortar Christian bookstores are at somewhat of a decline, Cook of Christian Used Books said. His best guess is that about 70 percent across the U.S. have closed within the past 15 years as a result of big-box retailers offering cheaper prices and the ease of online shopping.
However, “books will always be the way we learn and communicate,” Cook said. “And there’s still a need for people to be able to walk into a store and buy a book.”
And, then, there’s the community aspect.
“Sometimes, I wander into a Christian bookstore just to connect with the wall of books that prove I’m not alone in my faith and struggles,” Cheadle said. “Standing in front of a shelf filled with works by often brilliant scholars and writers who’ve explored my very issues and have found hope — just touching the spines of these great works, pulling a few from the shelf — can be enough to lift my spirits.”